Jealousy brought Taylor Stallworth here.
The New Orleans Saints’ 300-pound, undrafted rookie defensive tackle used to be a 230-pound baseball player, through his freshman year of high school. But Stallworth noticed that while hundreds flocked to the Murphy High football games in Mobile, Ala., he likely could count the fans at the baseball games on his fingers and toes, with a few digits remaining.
Stallworth wanted to perform for the bigger, vocal crowd. In the NFL, they won’t get much bigger or more vocal than the one for which he’ll perform on Sunday.
The latest beneficiaries of Stallworth putting away his baseball glove and giving up playing third and first base are the Saints, for whom Stallworth could play a major defensive role in Sunday’s game against Cleveland in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
Tyeler Davison (foot) has been declared out for the game, paving the way for Stallworth to make his NFL debut. He was inactive for the season opener against Tampa Bay.
“Who wouldn’t be (excited)?” said Stallworth, who blossomed into one of the top players in Alabama and the 30th best defensive tackle in the country in high school, according to Rivals.com, played collegiately at South Carolina. “As a rookie, I dreamed for this. So my dream is finally coming true.”
An undrafted rookie, at that, who climbed his way up the depth chart and carved out a roster spot for himself.
“He’s doing well,” Coach Sean Payton said. “He had a real good training camp for us and he’s someone that we think is athletic. We think he’s constantly improving. We’re encouraged with his progress.”
Stallworth created a niche at a position that had the starting rotation of Davison, Sheldon Rankins and David Onyemata, and included Jay Bromley, Woodrow Hamilton IV, Henry Mondeaux and Devaroe Lawrence among the candidates battling for snaps and trying to leave a lasting impression during training camp. Lawrence was traded to the Browns after training camp.
Stallworth now will have a chance to play his first NFL game in front of a contingent that will include his mother, brother and niece.
“I feel like the preparation for me went good, getting to know the Browns, how they run their stuff, the different schemes that they have, different personnel they have,” he said. “Just the whole week of preparation felt good to me. My opportunity is finally here, so I just have to make every chance of it.
“I have to be focused. Even though this is my first NFL game in the regular season, I can’t let that get to my head. I just have to stay focused throughout the whole game.”
Defensive focus especially could be critical for Saints defensive linemen. Browns quarterback Tyrod Taylor is one of the most elusive in the league, and ran for 77 yards and a touchdown on eight carries in Cleveland’s season opener against Pittsburgh.
“Tyrod Taylor, he’s a great quarterback,” Stallworth said. “Scramble, can throw – you’ve got to be aware of where he is at all times, because he can affect you with his arm but with his feet even more. So you’ve got to stay poised, keep him in the pocket.
“Against him you’ve got to be very disciplined, because he will hurt you with his feet. Like, if you leave any space out there, he will hurt you with his feet. So this whole week, we’ve prepared to just keep him in the pocket, don’t let him do the things he did last week.”
Jealousy laid the foundation to Stallworth’s path to the NFL. The Saints have to be pleased that it did.